There are numerous resources on management practices, but most of them do not actually teach managers how to implement those strategies. Now, more than ever, long-term care managers need practical advice. Nursing homes are facing a staffing crisis on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, and managers who were already overwhelmed are now left thinking about how they will keep their facilities open.
Outstanding organizational leadership can help any facility overcome low census numbers or the threat of infection. This, though, depends on taking the appropriate measures well in advance of potential crises. Management is generally prepared to celebrate happy occasions such as birthdays, but rarely do they consider preparing for death in the workplace. “You must get in touch with the crisis management team before you need them,” said Reed VanderSlik, a CEO of Baptist Retirement Homes. He recently joined the LTC Heroes podcast to discuss the best strategies for developing a cohesive and effective management team:
5 Keys to Crisis Management Training for Crisis Management Teams
Tragedy can strike at any time. Oftentimes, it is far beyond what individuals thought they were capable of managing. It is in those situations that leaders must step up and walk their team through a plan that both acknowledges their emotions and psychological states and helps them move forward. VanderSlik, unfortunately, has had to face some unimaginable tragedies in his 18 years as a senior executive for long-term care facilities.
A few years ago—when VanderSilk was the COO of Porter Hills Village in Grand Rapids, Michigan—an employee, who had an underlying health condition that affected his driving, struck and killed a bicyclist. VanderSlik was in the midst of preparing to handle the situation, pulling in the leadership team to discuss the best approach to take, when he discovered another devastating bit of information: the bicyclist that the driver killed was the husband of one of their therapists. This forced VanderSlik to rethink his plan of action. Again, working with the leadership team, he was able to bring the situation under control and comfort his staff. Soon after, though, they received more bad news: the same independent living salesperson was killed by a hit and run driver.
1. Listen to the Voices Around You
The best way for a leader to work through a major tragedy is to consult his or her crisis management team. Unfortunately, VanderSlik did not have one in place on that fateful day, though he now realizes that such a team would have been a source of guidance and could have helped management better meet the various needs of staff. “You really should reach out to them in advance,” he stated, “So they get to know you. They know a little bit about your culture, your organization.”
2. Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself
A leadership team must stay composed and not get lost in the moment. Going back to VanderSlik’s example, he noted that one of the biggest mistakes that he made was not bringing the entire leadership team together to comfort the therapist who had just lost her husband. Given the extreme series of events, the leadership team was heads down in trying to make sure their facilities were operating functionally. VanderSlik went to visit the therapist a bit later on, and she replied that he was the only person from the leadership team to visit her. It was then that he realized the value that visiting her as a team would have had.
3. Keep an Eye Out for Talent
Forming a crisis management team is a major step forward. However, oftentimes, a leader will find that some outside the team can add just as much, or even more, value. One of the ways that VanderSlik was able to manage the situation described above was to pull from the talent of his staff. One such example was referring to the bishop that works as a part of their team to provide comfort and advice for other staff.
4. Hire a Dependable Staff
It is not only important to hire external support for potential tragedies but also to have a team of individuals on hand to handle a crisis. VanderSlik was able to emerge from this extreme situation because he relied on his own staff. A dependable staff is an absolute must for successfully managing a crisis.
5. Reflect and Interpret as You Lead
Vision is an important trait of great leaders. However, during a crisis, what is required is less vision and more holding. “Holding” is a specific term in psychology that refers to the practice of a leader containing and interpreting what is happening as a crisis unfolds. It is important to hold employees during difficult times, especially when they are overwhelmed with grief, so that they do not become isolated from other individuals, as these are the times in which they require stronger personal connections.
Organizational Leadership and Developing the Leaders of Tomorrow
A crisis management team is a great first step. But to ensure that a facility remains prepared into future years, a leader must also develop the leaders of tomorrow, as they will eventually become the key drivers of success.
5 Tips for Finding Future Leaders
1. Look to Results
Like any industry, good results usually mean a strong work ethic and strong thinking. VanderSlik described his method of identifying good leadership by looking at the place that has good results. “Look where you’re getting great results,” he suggested. “My general belief is that, when things are going well, there’s a face behind it.”
2. Prompt Potential Leaders with Questions
Allowing outstanding employees to imagine themselves in leadership positions will help you find the leaders of the future. “Walk around and just interact. Ask very open-ended questions of individuals. If you could wave a magic wand today, what would you change?” said VanderSlik. This open-ended questioning would prompt employees to offer creative ideas to the leadership. These types of questioning would open up new avenues for the leadership to pursue. It also would show the capabilities of the employee, and it’s a great way to spot who has the potential to become a great leadership position.
3. Keep Track of Those with Promise
It is easy for leaders to get too busy to remember the names of those outstanding individuals who could develop into future leaders. Still, they must strive to keep them in mind. “Have an inventory in your head,” said VanderSlik. After he identified the individuals that were responsible for achieving great results and gathered their ideas for potential changes, VanderSlik would store those thoughts away in a safe place. This mental inventory made it possible for him to eventually mentor these individuals to become effective leaders. “Getting results from others is a difficult skillset,” said VanderSlik, marking that it is difficult to prepare and motivate individuals to succeed at the tasks that they are to accomplish.
4. Make Time to Be a Mentor
After identifying these key individuals, the next step is to help them develop their leadership skills with the goal of helping them continue to be an asset to the organization. Professor Neil Maniar of Northwestern University recently provided insight as to what it takes to become an effective leader in health care. He replied that the most important thing to do was to mentor staff, as this allows them to successfully grow into their roles and make upward progress. It is similarly important to mentor staff in long term care in order to prepare them for leadership roles that are invaluable to your organization.
5. Be a Communicator
Communication must be both frequent and clear. VanderSlik noted that an organizational leader must continuously be in contact with the rest of the leadership and staff, and the type of communication should not be clothed in ambiguity. A recent Gallup poll showed that only 22 percent of employees feel that their leaders have a clear vision for their organization. Meanwhile, only 13 percent of employees strongly agree that leadership communicates effectively.
Clear and frequent communication is even more important during crises, which, by their very nature, create ambiguity that fuels rumor mills, especially when there is a lack of communication from leadership. Without a strong sense of direction about where the organization is headed, employees are left with no other option than to guess about what is happening around them. Effective communication can shut down these rumor mills before they open and succinctly and effectively inform employees about the future direction of the facility.
Such communication is now more challenging than ever due to the work from home requirements of the current pandemic. Leaders, thus, must make the necessary adjustments and employ an even wider method of communication. Recent advancements in long term technology, such as electronic health records (EHRs), make communication between members of a team far easier. An electronic Kardex, for instance, will notify users with pop-up alerts about the most urgent issues that need to be addressed.
A crisis management team is a necessity today, as the long-term care industry sails on turbulent waters. Having a team, though, is not enough. A leader must also establish clear and frequent communication so that employees understand the direction of the organization and aren’t forced to present premature theories. It is also important to develop the leadership of tomorrow, as one can never be too prepared. VanderSlik’s strategy is to first identify individuals that are achieving great results, get their creative input, and keep an eye on them as potential candidates for mentoring in the future. Each facility is different, so leaders must be flexible and open-minded in searching for solutions for tomorrow’s problems.
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